I am now well into my international tour and have just got back from the slightly surreal Hull, Paris, Milan section that I mentioned last month. Of course the Italians call the city Milano, which got me vaguely wondering why foreigners tend to change the names of towns that have already been given a perfectly good name by the locals.
English speakers must have arrived in this town and been greeted by the townsfolk, who said, “Hello, welcome to Milano.”
But the English speakers must have looked at them askance and said, “Milano? What a rubbish name for a town. That won’t do at all. We’re going to call it Milan.”
“But it’s called Milano.”
“We don’t like that name, it’s childish. We prefer Milan and so that’s what we are going to call it.”
“How terribly rude of you. Where do you come from?”
“OK, well we’re going to call that Londra, then. How do you like that?”
“I don’t like it at all. It’s ridiculous and needlessly offensive to change the name of the place I live in such a small and petty way.”
“So now you know how we felt, huh?”
“No, this is different, because Milano is a stupid name, but London is a great one. I hate foreigners.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“At least we agree on something. What’s your name, friend?”
“I am going to call you Luigooo.”
And so on.
Italy is my favourite country, I think, though I had never been to Milano before. I had a cappuccino outside a café and ate a pizza and then went for a walk and had an ice cream and ogled the beautiful and stylish women who passed me.
It’s like this place was built for me, with everything I love laid on. I walked up to the castle and sat in the park behind it drinking a diet coke (how did they know?), watching the young Italians playing games and juggling and playing guitar and singing and kissing in the sunshine.
It made me happy, but also gave me my usual sense of nameless dread in my stomach, as I considered the passage of time, how I didn’t appreciate my own youth and how ultimately everything is pointless. But mainly it was good.
Then I headed down to the Cathedral, which I was told is the third largest religious structure in the world. I don’t know it that is true. But it is certainly an impressive size. Guards with metal detectors stood at the entrance, going through people’s bags, but the only person they refused entry to was a woman who was showing a small part of her midriff.
God does not like bare stomachs in his house. Even though he invented stomachs and decided that they should be bare, I think He is slightly ashamed of that decision now and if he could have another crack at it he would coat all sexually alluring parts of the body in a chunky, woolly cardigan that would grow out of our backs.
I passed a poor box and remembering the story of the old woman who gave one pence old money to the church, impressing Jesus, I stopped to put one cent in the box. Of course this is an amount of money that is worth approximately no pence in English money, but I knew Jesus would be pleased with me. “Who is the best Christian,” he was probably saying to his dad, “the wealthy British comedian who owns a large house in West London who gives slightly more than nothing to the poor and who doesn’t believe in Me or You, or the poor Italian Catholic old woman who has come in to church to pray but gives no money at all.”
And God would think about it for a second and then pronounce, “Well son, judged on the proportion of their savings that they have given to the poor, I am forced, despite Myself, to conclude it is the comedian. He gave 0.00000000000000001% of his money to the poor, whilst the old woman gave 0% and then just gabbled on to Me about all her problems, which aren’t really anything to do with Me.”
“That’s right Dad, he has made a mockery of the system, but nonetheless he must come to Heaven and be seated at Your right side, whilst the pious woman shall burn in Hell. Sometimes I wish we could change the rules a bit, but that would make a mockery of the whole thing.”
After a short sleep, the promoter and me jumped into a cab and headed down to the canal to the venue. Before the show he took me to a little café where we had a drink. Unbelievably the place laid on a free buffet for all its customers at this time, so for the price of a slightly inflated bottle of Becks I was able to eat a couple of bowls of pasta and some little sandwiches and some fancy salami. I don’t know how they make this system work, though the place was packed, so presumably it works as a policy.
It’s a Milanoese custom apparently, but I can’t imagine it working in Londra. I don’t think my townsfolk would respect the system and would just drink as little as possible and eat as much as they could before pissing off home to watch TV and vomit. The café would go bust in days and the Londraners would not feel guilty that their greed had destroyed something beautiful, which they could have enjoyed forever if only they had been more moderate. No, they would have laughed at the stupidity of the café owner and been glad that they had had two days of more free food than they could comfortably eat. Idiots.